Coastal Plants

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Coastal Plants

Red Columbine, BC Coastal Region, coastal plants
Red Columbine, Photo By Robert Logan

Hiking in the Pacific Northwest and seeing the meadows, slopes, and trail sides filled with a vast variety of plants is one of my favorite things to do.

While we all appreciate the beauty plants give us, we mostly do not notice the magic that goes on to create these magnificent shows. Annuals must grow anew each year from seed while perennial plants can last for several seasons but ultimately must also produce enough new plants from seed to maintain the population.

Seeds formed after pollination occurs must be carried from the mother plant to places they can germinate. Some wildflower seeds have varying amounts of chemicals that inhibit germination in their seed coats. Some seeds germinate with just a small amount of rainfall. Others won’t sprout until the spring rains come and soak the seed.

Some seeds remain viable in the soil for decades before conditions are just right and they can grow. This is an insurance against all the seeds sprouting at once in unfavorable conditions and not reproducing.

Indian Plum, BC Coastal Region, coastal plants
Indian Plum, Photo By Bud Logan

There are so many fascinating plants on our coast that one could never learn about them all but one can try, so get out and see for yourself just what plants live in your area. Take your camera to bring home memories of where you went. You might do yourself some good, hiking around the Pacific Northwest. It is a nice, healthy way to get some exercise.

There are many kinds of plants that grow in the pacific northwest.

Bull Kelp, Brown Algae, Photo By Bud Logan
Bull Kelp, Brown Algae, Photo By Bud Logan
Algae belong to a large group of primitive aquatic organisms. Most of them are autotrophic and are able to carry out photosynthesis. Just like the land plants, they contain chlorophyll, but they do not possess roots or leaves, in the way land plants do.

Some types are able to derive energy from both photosynthesis and from external sources. These carry out photosynthesis but also take up organic matter by osmosis to derive energy, and a few types completely rely on external energy sources for its energy.

There are several types of algae, blue-green, red, green and brown. With the green algae being the largest group. It grows everywhere. There are more than 20,000 known varieties of algae. Most are mainly occupy marine environments, both fresh and salt.

Bull Kelp, Pacific Northwest
Bull Kelp, Brown Algae, Photo By Bud Logan
They produce oxygen, 87% of the oxygen we breathe. They are important to humans not just for its ability to produce oxygen, but also as food and medicine. There are many medical uses for algae.

They are also used in many sewer treatment facilities. Some can be used to treat both municipal and industrial wastewater. Some types play a major role in the aerobic treatment of waste in the secondary treatment process. Algae-based municipal wastewater treatment systems are mainly used for nutrient removal (removal of nitrogen and phosphorous). It has the ability to accumulate heavy metals and thereby remove toxic compounds from the wastewater. In some cases, they also play a role in the removal of pathogens in the tertiary treatment stage.

When it is grown in sunlight it can absorb carbon dioxide as it grows, it will convert the carbon dioxide into oxygen for the rest of us to breathe. This could be used to reduce co2 emissions from sources such as power plants, ethanol facilities, and other sources. Algae like the coralline algae, are important members of coral reefs. Red types are unusual among them because they can produce calcium carbonate which makes the plants walls hard and resistant to wear.

Brown kinds are found mainly in the tidal zones, but some exist in the deep ocean. Among the brown algae are the largest and most complex of them, they include the giant kelps we see growing on the coastal waters. They can be more than 70 meters long and are a major food source for many types of fishes.

Wireweed, Pacific Northwest
Wireweed, Brown Algae, Photo By Bud Logan
The oceans cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface and the algae produce up to 87% of the world’s oxygen. They also help remove huge amounts of Carbon Dioxide. We need to really look after our oceans, remember this – we kill the ocean, we will kill the world.

The Pacific Northwest has many choice edible plants that can be harvested from the wild. Some plants are very healthy and some can add a flavor to your table that can not be bought. But please be careful when gathering wild food as some may not agree with you and some can make you quite ill. Some plants can be confused with inedible or poisonous plants so be sure you know what you’ve harvested before eating any wild plant. There are many great field guides for edible plants, so find a decent one for your area and take it out with you.

Chocolate Lily, Pacific Northwest
Chocolate Lily, photo by Bud Logan

Don’t over harvest a single species in one location and never harvest endangered species. Only take what you need. Even though a plant may be edible, its flavor may not be to your liking so before harvesting a plant that is new to you, gather a little and try it out beforehand.

Be careful about gathering wild plants in areas that have been sprayed with pesticides, or in areas where you don’t know if spraying has occurred. I don’t gather wild plants along any roads,  the dust from the roads and pollution from exhaust fumes can contaminate the plants. Making them unhealthy for consumption.

So get your book on edible plants and head out into the field, you will have fun, learn about plants and get healthy from both the plants and the walk in the forest.

American Holly, Pacific Northwest
American Holly, photo by Bud Logan

Invasive plant species are considered to be one of the greatest threats to biodiversity not just on the BC coast, but worldwide, second only to loss of habitat, the Pacific Northwest is being attacked by many invasive species of plants.

The coast has very diverse and rare ecosystems that support many rare and endangered species that depend on these habitats for their survival, Invasive plants can take over and force the native plants out. The closer you come to communities, the more you see, spread by dumping garden debris in the forest. Some Plants like English Holly are mostly distributed by birds, the seeds will go right through them and then be delivered along with a good fertilizer. I have seen these trees a very long way from any road.

Scotch Broom, Pacific Northwest
Scotch Broom, Photo By Bud Logan
Invasive plants are brought to the Pacific Northwest, either accidentally or intentionally, and include species like purple loosestrife, scotch broom, and Japanese knotweed. These are just a few of the plant species that are threatening our indigenous plant species on our coast.

These invasive plants can get established easily and because they may have no natural predators, they can quickly take over an area and force out native species and this can also have an adverse effect on our native wildlife. As the animals usually do not eat the invasive plants and as these plants take over areas, it forces the wildlife to look further for food.

Some of these plants can have a direct negative effect on humans as well, some can have huge economic impacts by competing with agricultural plantings and forest harvesting areas. They can also pose significant threats to humans by causing skin irritation, burns, and poisonings.

Purple Loosestrife, Pacific Northwest
Purple Loosestrife, Photo By Bud Logan
The Pacific Northwest has a real problem with these plants, everyone who lives on the coast, especially on Vancouver Island, has seen the advance of plants like Scotch Broom. When I was a young man, you hardly ever saw this plant on the Island, now its everywhere you look. I was hiking up a mountain in the Kelsey Bay area this year and near the top, almost out of the tree line, there it was, scotch broom. This really upset me.

Self Heal, Medicinal Plants,Pacific Northwest
Self Heal, Photo By Bud Logan
Natural medicine is no longer a back to nature fad but a real down to earth philosophy. A need for more natural healing is like something new to us but in reality, we have always relied on plants for medicine. From time immemorial, man has used plants to treat illness and relieve pain. Over half of the medicines, doctors prescribe today are derived from members of the plant kingdom.

Over the ages, many magical and mystical powers were ascribed to plants as medicine. Sometimes their abilities to heal were thought to be magical and their healing qualities were feared by some groups like the church. Many people were put to death for their understanding of these healing abilities.

But today we understand the chemical and physical qualities that account for the healing properties of these plants. Yet plants still process a magical quality, just look at the beauty and vast variety of their form. There are many great medicinal plants on the Pacific Northwest coast.

Tiger Lily, Pacific Northwest
Tiger Lily, photo by Bud Logan

Hiking on the coast of the Pacific Northwest and seeing the meadows, slopes, and trail sides filled with a vast variety of blooming wildflowers is one of my favorite things to do, but while I appreciate the beauty wildflowers give me, sometimes I forget to consider the magic at work to create such a show year after year. Annual wildflowers must grow anew each year from seed while perennial wildflower plants can last for several seasons but ultimately must also produce enough new plants from seed to maintain the population.

Seeds formed after pollination occurs must be carried from the mother plant to places they can germinate. they usually rely on birds and furry animals for this, although some use other means, such as hanging over the water. Some wildflower seeds have varying amounts of chemicals that inhibit germination in their seed coats. Some seeds germinate with just a small amount of rainfall. Others won’t sprout until the spring rains come and soak the seed. Some seeds remain viable in the soil for decades before conditions are just right and they can grow. This is an insurance against all the seeds sprouting at once in unfavorable conditions and not reproducing.

Although you get wondrous explosions of color up in the high meadows, it’s not the only place to view wildflowers, they are everywhere, from the very edge of the ocean, along the river banks and lakeshores, right up to the tree line on our highest peaks. I love walking the river trails, seeing the various lily’s, the tiger lily is one of my favorites. For many of us on the coast, a colorful display of wildflowers on one of our mountain meadows is one of the most beautiful experiences we can encounter. The BC coastal region has many such wonders to bestow upon the worthy traveler who takes to walking the high trails. For these folks, there is magic in seeing these fields awash in color.

Many flowers now considered gardens favorites have been domesticated from wildflowers. The snapdragon, miniature daisies, foxgloves, and phlox were all wildflowers tamed for use in domestic gardens. Many of these flowers and their cultivars are unchanged from their natural form, while others have been cultivated and cross-bred in greenhouses to create totally new plants within their species.

Chocolate Lily, Pacific Northwest
Chocolate Lily, Photo By Bud Logan
Even though these plants have the ability to survive in poor soil, many wildflowers do not live very  long after being picked. Some plants that are dug up for transfer do not fend very well as they do not transplant well and the whole process of removing them is harmful to the environment, l always like to stress the need to gather some seed and grow the plants from scratch. This leaves the mother plant healthy with enough seed left to look after its own reproduction.

You can see wildflowers from the very end of winter, poking out from the remaining snow right up to the winter storms arrive, some even grow year-round.

Wildflowers grow all over the coast. Wildflowers are simply any flowering plants that grow in the wild. When we think of wildflowers, we think of plants with colorful, beautiful blooms, but not all wildflowers have big showy flowers. Some have small flowers with little show but they are all wondrous to see in their own way. Wildflowers are found growing in all sorts of habitats all over the coast. From fields to forests, from meadows to lawns, wildflowers are found everywhere.

King Gentian, Pacific Northwest
King Gentian, Photo By Bud Logan
Finding what wildflowers grow in your area is not as hard as you may think. There are many great field guides and l suggest you pick up one or more for your area and head out to see just what you can see. In any given area, you can find different types of flowers at various times of the year. So go back to the same areas throughout the year.

This is a great past time to take your children on, they can learn about plants and by so doing, will learn about the forests, meadows, insects, and animals that share the same areas. But please teach them to look, when you pick most wildflowers, they will tend to wilt and die quickly and sometimes there are insects and animals that are relying on these plants to survive.

There are over 20,000 species of flowering plants in North America that belong to over 300 different families. Those that grow in the wild or on their own, without cultivation, are called wildflowers.  Other wildflowers, introduced but now wild, are not indigenous, they are referred to as naturalized.  Both types share one common distinction: They both grow on their own in nature.

Western Lady Slipper, Pacific Northwest
Western Lady Slipper, Photo By Robert Logan
Flowering plants are called Angiosperms. Their origins are still unknown and are one of the great mysteries of evolution. Fossil records show they appeared suddenly on the planet about 90 million years ago. They took off rapidly and evolved quickly into the many various families we have today.

Plants are, for the most part, stationary, so nature had to provide a means for the male and female parts of newly-formed flowers to reach each other successfully. This need resulted in the rise of the system of pollination or fertilization by birds and insects. Flowers evolved into the showy, colorful forms to attract these pollinators. Sweet nectar simply added to the allure.

Bees, Butterflies, other flying insects, and birds all play a major role in pollination, the greater the show, the more pollinators there will be. It’s fascinating to watch this process, next time you are around flowering plants, take a moment and have a good look, you will be surprised by the activity around these flowers.

Gnome Plant, Pacific Northwest
Gnome Plant, Photo By Robert Logan
So grab your camera put on your hiking boots, head out to a trail and learn about what wonders are hiding in our forests and meadows, you will be amazed and you will enjoy the fresh air.

There are so many fascinating plants on our Island that one could never learn about them all but one can try, so get out and see for yourself just what wildflowers live in your area. Take your camera to bring home memories of where you went. You might do yourself some good hiking around the island. It is a nice, healthy way to get some exercise. Perhaps we will run into one another one day, on a mountain trail, happy hiking.

Algae    Edible Plants    Invasive Plants    Medicinal Plants

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